So let’s say you happen to look over at the marquee of the Michigan Theater’s latest cinematic pickings, and you spot the title “The Kids Are All Right.” What’s that all about? you ask yourself. And so you cruise over to IMDb to read the plot description.
“The Kids Are All Right”
At the Michigan and Quality 16
“Two children conceived by artificial insemination bring their birth father into their family life,” the text reads. Okay, so it’s a lesbian comedy, featuring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as the lesbians in question, no less. So it’s going to be about two upper-crust liberal lesbians leading typical suburban SoCal lives. Their kids will be well-behaved, but ultimately lonely. There will be lots of gay jokes and misunderstandings, the family will initially hate the sperm donor but then slowly warm to his gravelly charm. Then finally they will develop to an expanded, adorable family transcending heteronormative conventions and the kids will at long last be “all right,” right?
Despite what the plot summary would have you believe, director and “out” lesbian Lisa Cholodenko (“Laurel Canyon”) is not interested in making a cutesy indie with an easy resolution. “The Kids Are All Right” may well become the Academy’s token indie of the year — but it’s no “Little Miss Sunshine,” and it’s certainly no “Juno.” Resolution does not come easily, nor does it ever come thoroughly. In fact, if there’s any movie that “Kids” calls back to, it would probably be Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives,” an early ’90s film addressing the identity crises of marriage dissolution.
There’s something decidedly raw and familiar about the emotions revealed toward the second half of the film, with the very real threat of neglect and divorce looming in the distance. In this way, “Kids” becomes much more relatable than your typical lesbian comedy. The film doesn’t scream about its sexuality – it simply takes it as fact. The film industry has been slow to embrace the concept of a nuclear family beyond the whole heterosexual picket fence thing, so it’s refreshing that “Kids” can be so daring yet conventional at the same time.
Yet herein may lie the problem. While the script is stunning, tossing off well-thrusted barbs like a skilled javelin thrower, it can get a bit sketch-oriented and comedic. Yet once tragedy hits the family, something goes a little off – it’s like the mood doesn’t know where it wants to be. The best genre to place “Kids” in would probably be tragicomedy, but Cholodenko has a problem with transitioning from the tragic to the comic. There are some really huge misfortunes that befall this close-knit family, but it takes the audience a little time to readjust from the jibes in order to realize the true emotional gravity of the characters’ decisions.
Acting highlights include the ever-radiant Moore (“A Single Man”) and Bening (“The Women”), as well as Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”), who plays their teenage daughter Joni, but really – the entire cast is brilliant. Mark Ruffalo (“Shutter Island”) is wonderfully rough as the “I just live my life, you know?” sperm donor Paul. Josh Hutcherson (“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”) is vulnerable and confused as their younger son Laser. Cholodenko has a knack for pulling out genuine performances out of her actors, and you get the sense that all of them are not playing types but actual, three-dimensional people. Also, fans of the reality show “America’s Next Top Model” will be surprised to see cycle three runner-up YaYa Dacosta make a brief cameo as Paul’s young and leggy love interest.
Although several of its turns might come off as erratic, “The Kids Are All Right” is a charming piece of cinema with some real emotional meat to it. Boasting stellar performances from each of its characters, major or otherwise, the film quashes whatever expectations you might’ve had from it by giving you a little something extra.